LENT #6: THE UNEXPECTED GRACE OF WAITING FOR GOD

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The devil knows scripture, but he cannot understand it. To understand the Bible, we have to receive it with a heart of faith. Satan’s temptation to Jesus was to force God to prove himself. We too, are tempted at times to insist that God prove that he loves us. However, He has already proved his love for us, through the cross.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Lent Part 6

Let’s start with the facts. The “pinnacle of the temple,” could refer to a couple different places. One is the east wall. Ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (who was born only a few decades after Jesus) describes the drop along the east wall as being six-hundred feet. Another possibility is the southeast corner, which was at the edge of the Kidron valley. From that part of the temple, the drop to the floor of the valley was at least three hundred feet. Even in our age of modern medicine  and emergency services, 90% of people die after a fall of 84 feet. So, without miraculous intervention, there was no way Jesus would survive jumping off the temple with that kind of height.

Jesus has been repudiating the devil by quoting scripture. Now, the devil shows just how nasty and how devious he can be. He makes his suggestion that Jesus throw himself down, and then the devil himself quotes scripture as a justification for the sin.

If this shocks you, it shouldn’t. People have been committing sins in the name of God all throughout history. Some of them even use the Bible to justify their sins. They do so because the devil has misled them. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you, reading this, were tempted to throw up your hands and say, “Forget it! If the devil can use the Bible against, me I’m a goner. If he knows the Bible, I’ll never be able to know it well enough to fight him.”

If you have a reaction like this, I want to say, with fatherly kindness (but also with fatherly firmness): “Please don’t be childish and immature.”

First consider this: Yes, the devil knows the Bible. But he doesn’t understand it. To understand the Bible, you have to receive it in faith as a follower of Jesus Christ. The devil rejected Jesus long before any part of the Bible was formed. So, the brand new follower of Jesus who only knows a few Bible verses understands what those verses mean better than does the devil.

Second, I have spent a lot of time recently encouraging you to read the Bible regularly. This is just one more reason why you ought to do so. It’s not that difficult, especially with modern translations. Seriously, thousands of people have died, and thousands more risked their lives, so that we could have the Bible in our own language; so we could read it and understand it. It is childish to claim to follow Jesus, and yet not be bothered to read the Bible. It’s like saying you are really into soccer, but in reality, you only kick the ball around with friends once in a while, and you don’t even know the rules. This is basic Christianity. It’s part of the deal. It is as important as being part of a church, as important as praying. If you have questions, you know I will help you. You know your house church will help you. Come on, people: Figure – This – Out.

If you are tired of me repeating this sort of thing about the Bible, I want you to know that I will continue to do so until I am convinced that most of you do, in fact, read it regularly. By “regularly,” I mean at least several times a week, week in, week out, year in, year out. Until I am sure of that, you will hear more of this sort of thing. Put a reminder on your phone. Ask a friend to bug you about it. Tell everyone you are going to read the Bible, so you are motivated to read in order to not be a hypocrite. One thought might be to agree with a group of friends that you will pick a book of the Bible together – say, Luke – and you all read the same chapter, or half a chapter, each day. You could encourage each other, share your favorite part of your reading, and things like that. Whatever it takes – come on, please, do this!

The better you know what the Bible says, and the better you understand it, the more easily you will be able to defeat the devil when he tries to misuse scripture. It is not remotely an impossible task, because again, you will have a better understanding than the devil of every verse you read.

While we are on this subject, I want to give us some basic tools that will help us to avoid the traps of the devil concerning the Bible. Satan quotes Psalm 91 (one of my favorite psalms, by the way) to try to convince Jesus to do his bidding. How can we know that Psalm 91 should not be used this way?

The truth is, it isn’t that difficult. If you read Psalm 91, it is obviously not an invitation to try suicide in order to prove God’s faithfulness. All you have to do is read it, and you can see that the devil has no case. Instead, Psalm 91 is clearly an invitation to trust in God’s faithful love and care for those who belong to him. Again, all this is obvious if you read the psalm with the eyes of faith, using ordinary common sense.

What the devil wants Jesus to do is the opposite of trust, the opposite of the message of the psalm. He wants Jesus to try to force God into keeping the promises of the psalm. Instead of trusting, the devil wants Jesus to make the Father prove his faithfulness. So the devil is trying to use psalm 91 in a way that twists its clear message.

The devil is still doing this kind of thing with scripture, inspiring people who do not have genuine faith to suggest meanings for Bible passages that are twisted and wrong. To keep people from doing that, early Christians developed a few simple rules for interpreting the Bible. Theologians call these rules hermeneutics. At their heart, Christian hermeneutics are not complicated. I want to share these rules with you, in case you wonder how to interpret certain Bible passages.

1. Read the Bible in context. In other words, don’t take one little verse out of a Bible passage and use it to say something that the passage does not mean. So, for instance, Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We could take that out of context and say that Christians should never be found guilty in court. More realistically, someone might take that verse to mean that we are now free to indulge every sinful desire we have, since we are not condemned. But if you simply read for several verses before and after, the passage very clearly says that we should set our minds on the things of the spirit, not the things of the flesh (sinful things). You can’t misunderstand it if you just read the previous few verses, and the following ones. This is one reason I fervently recommend reading whole books of the Bible. You learn to see what a verse means in the context of the whole book.

2. The Bible is explained by the Bible. The majority of the Bible is quite clear, as long as you read it in context (see above). But there are a few parts that are more difficult. When you encounter part of the Bible that seems obscure, or hard to understand, use the more clear parts to help you understand. If that doesn’t help you, and you still can’t understand, then leave it for now, and trust the scripture that you do understand.

3. The Bible does not contradict itself in any important matter. Last time we looked at an example of a “contradiction,” in the Bible: Matthew wrote the temptation about worshipping Satan in third place, and Luke records it as second. But there is no contradiction concerning what the temptation was, nor when it happened, nor how Jesus responded. Most of the so-called contradictions are things like this, that have no bearing on the meaning of the Bible. There are other places where the Bible seems to contradict itself in terms of meaning. However, in those places, we find that we have a choice. We could interpret certain passages in a way that causes a contradiction. Or, we could interpret them in a way that brings no contradiction. When we are faced with such choices, common sense says that we should use the meaning that causes no contradiction. We normally do this, without even thinking about it, with every other book we read. It is plain common sense.

4. Pay attention to the genre of what you read. In this case, genre just means the “type,” or “style,” of writing. So the genre of 1 Peter is instruction. It is a letter written to encourage and teach others. Therefore, we don’t treat it like a poem, or an allegory, or a song. It’s a straightforward presentation of ideas and thoughts. The book of Psalms, however, is a collection of worship songs and poems. Because they are songs and poems for use in worship, we don’t treat them like a straightforward book of instruction. We can learn things from them, but we should keep in mind that there are word-pictures in the psalms that are not meant to be taken at face value. Some books, like 2 Samuel, are historical narrative. They record what happened. Again, we can learn things from reading about what happened, and how God interacted with human beings in various circumstances. However, historical narrative is not the same as instruction. So, when 2 Samuel 11 records that David committed adultery with Bathsheba, that is not teaching us that adultery is acceptable. It is recording what actually happened, not necessarily what should have happened.

All this can be summed up in the idea of reading the Bible literally. What I mean by that is, we read it objectively and inductively in order to find out what it says. We don’t read it with a plan to make it say what we want it to, or what we think it should say. We let the Bible speak on its own terms.

Imagine you want to find out about penguins. You get a book from the library that is all about these fascinating creatures. You don’t pick isolated sentences out of the book here and there – you read it chapter by chapter, the way the author presents it. You assume the author won’t contradict herself. You read the book in a straightforward way, to find out what it says,

Again, I want to emphasize that most of this is just plain common sense. This is how we read almost any book. If you keep these things in mind, and above all, retain your common sense, you will be able to spot it when the devil is tricking someone into misusing the bible.

By the way, the response of Jesus used all four of these simple rules. The context (first rule) of Psalm 91 has nothing to do with suicide, or forcing God to keep his promises. Jesus employed the second rule when he quoted scripture back to the devil. He uses a very clear passage to demolish the devil’s rather strained and murky interpretation: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, (Deuteronomy 6:16, ESV).” This is a clear instruction, that can be used to interpret things that might be less clear. Third, he paid attention to genre. Psalm 91, quoted by Satan, is poetic. It was probably originally a song. It is not an instruction. It uses word pictures that should not be taken exactly straightforwardly. Jesus quotes from a passage of instruction to clarify things.

I want to revisit the central temptation here. What Satan was trying to do was to get Jesus to quit living in faith, and instead, to demand proof from God. I think this sort of temptation entices all of us from time to time. It might even sound reasonable on the face of it: “God, you say you love me, so prove it by healing my husband of cancer.” Or, “God, you say you care for every detail of my life. I’ll believe it, if you will only give me money to meet my bills this month.”

I have known a number of people who have given up their faith because God did not act the way they expected him to. They thought he should do a certain thing, or prevent something, and enticed by the devil, they made their faith in him conditional upon his acting according to their expectations.

One man I know claimed he was an atheist. He said, “I believe in science.” I said: “So do I. That doesn’t stop me believing in God.” As we conversed further, I found out that at some point in his life, God had disappointed him. He wanted God to do something for him, and God didn’t come through in a way that the man could accept. So he abandoned God. It had nothing to do with science. It was because he believed the lie that God has something to prove to us.

God has no obligation to do anything for us whatsoever. Yet, he shows us his love for us in a multitude of ways every day. Every good thing we ever experience is proof of God’s love and goodness. As Ben Franklin whimsically quipped: “Beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to enjoy life.” By the way, that’s not an excuse to abuse alcohol, but rather a reason for gratitude. We can and should apply it to every good thing in our lives.

In addition to all the good God showers on us, and in spite of the fact that he does not owe us any kind of proof, he did prove his love for us through Jesus Christ. He proved his love even before anyone had turned to him:

6 For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!

(Romans 5:6-8, HCSB)

At the cross, Jesus proved God’s heart toward us. Christ did prove God’s love and care for us – but not in the way the devil wanted him to. Like Psalm 91 obviously says, like Jesus shows us, we are called to trust God’s love. We are called to ask God to intervene, yes, but also to wait on him to show his love in his own  way and in his own time. God grant us the ability, by the Holy Spirit, to wait on him in trust!

LENT #5: THE SURPRISING GRACE OF THE HARD WAY

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Our heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that in God. We should not let our hearts be torn from him, but for God we should risk and disregard everything else on earth. We should learn to seek all goodness in and through Him alone.

The temptation of Satan is to lead us to entrust ourselves to other people or things; to put our hope and confidence in anything other than the true God. Jesus overcame that temptation, and empowers us by the Holy Spirit to do the same.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Lent Part 5

LENT #5. LUKE 4:1-8

Before we plunge into the text, I want to make note of one or two things. You don’t have to swing a stick very long before you hit someone who claims that the Bible is full of contradictions. Most people who say this cannot actually give an example of this – it is something they take on faith. But for the record, our text today is one of those places in the Bible that contains a “contradiction.” Are you ready for this?

When Matthew describes the temptation of Jesus, he says that the temptation to worship the devil (the one we will look at today) occurred not second, but third. That’s right – Luke says it happened second, and Matthew says it was third. They agree that there were three types of temptations. They agree about how Jesus battled them, and the scriptures he quoted. They agree about when it happened (just after his baptism). But one of the temptations is out of order.

If you are wondering what the big deal is, you are right to wonder: there is no big deal here. In fact, to me, this is something that proves that the Bible was neither made up later, nor edited later. If someone was either making it up, or editing it later on for some purpose, this “contradiction” would have been smoothed out. The fact that it is there shows that we really have the original writings of the people who knew Jesus personally. Just to make sure we understand – it doesn’t really matter in which order this temptation came. Both Matthew and Luke agree that it came, and describe it the same way. The order changes nothing about Christian belief.

All right, let’s get to Luke’s record of the second temptation. Satan reveals to Jesus all of the power and glory of the world, and then offers it to him. He says, “because it has been given to me.” Once more, we find out that the devil is a cheat and a liar. It is true that for the time being, God has not dislodged Satan from this world. Jesus later called him “the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30, 16:11).” Paul calls him the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), and “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). John writes in his first letter that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:18-21, ESV)

So, though the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, the devil’s power does not extend to those who are born of God through Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Satan was not completely wrong in saying that he had power over all the kingdoms and peoples of the world. But he was lying when he said “it has been given to me.” It was not given to him – Satan rebelled against God, and then enticed human beings to leave God’s protection, and thus to come under his own dominion. In other words, Satan took all of it, by manipulation and lies. He is combining lies with truth. It is true that Satan has dominion over any human part of the world that does not submit to God. But it is not Satan’s by right. And of course, we who trust Jesus are not under the authority of the devil.

C.S. Lewis powerfully portrays how deadly it is when lies are combined with elements of truth, in his final Narnia book The Last Battle. I highly recommend it to you. Another of his books that depicts the way the devil often works is The Screwtape Letters.

I think it is good for us to be aware of the schemes of the devil, and how he tries to tempt us. When he combines a bit of truth with his lies, that prevents us from simply saying: “That’s a lie.” There is a level of complexity that he weaves to try and trick us. When we see the truth of one part of his temptation, we are tempted to believe the whole thing.

Let’s dig into why worshipping the devil would be any kind of temptation for Jesus. First and foremost, we need to keep in mind what I have said previously, which is that Jesus was limiting himself to his human nature. He had to take the fact that he was the Son of God on trust – trust in the word that God the Father spoke to him. Apparently, the Father had also revealed the details of Jesus’ mission – that he would suffer and die a horrible death. The goal of the mission, the whole point of Jesus coming to earth, was to bring the world back to God. Jesus was to be the means by which the world would know God. Ultimately the whole planet will one day come under the authority of Jesus Christ:

6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11, NLT)

The devil is offering Jesus a shortcut. Instead of humbling himself, instead of experiencing suffering and death, Jesus could have every knee bow to him right now. “You don’t have to keep suffering through this miserable human existence,” he is saying. “You don’t have to suffer humiliation, and pain, torture and death. You can get right to the good part, right now. I’ll let you have the whole world without all that difficulty.”

So, this part of the temptation could be summarized as follows: What you want is good and right. But it seems like it will be very hard for you to achieve it. In fact, perhaps you’ll never achieve it. However, if you just make this one little compromise, you can reach your goal.

Think about how things actually went. Jesus spent three more years living in poverty and deprivation. He gathered followers who did not understand him very well, and even sometimes got entirely the wrong idea. He found himself in constant conflict with the religious leaders, who argued with him, slandered him, and even schemed to kill him. Finally, he was imprisoned, brutally beaten twice in one day, and then crucified – which is, by any measure, death by torture.

After his crucifixion, he still had to go to hell. Finally, he rose. At that point, his personal suffering was complete. However, even now, two-thousand years later, his mission is not complete. For two-thousand years, his people have sometimes spread his word, but many times they have been content to not tell anyone, and to not care about the world he came to save. Even now, the whole world has not come to know him.

“So,” says the devil, “– you have all that – after all your suffering, your mission still won’t be finished, not even after twenty-centuries. Or – if you just do this one small thing for me, we take care of the whole thing, right here, right now. Immediately, the whole world is yours. No suffering, no muss, no fuss. No twenty centuries of watching your people try and fail to spread your word. In many cases, they wouldn’t even try! But if you just join with me, you won’t have to depend on them. You won’t have to suffer. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s painless.”

Of course it’s a trap. If Jesus had bowed down in worship, all of the kingdoms of the world would have remained under the influence of Satan. Jesus might have had power over the world, but then Satan would have had power over Jesus. The world would glorify Satan, not Jesus.

There is another aspect to all this. We shouldn’t overlook the power of the temptation to worship things other than God. By worship, I don’t really mean “pray to,” or “sing praises to.” In this case, worship is about who, or what we put first in our hearts. It is about what is most important to us. So, part of what was going on was that Satan was tempting Jesus to make his mission (saving the world) more important than his relationship with the Father. He was saying, “You’ve got to accomplish your mission, right? Well, here’s how you do that.” But, of course, Satan’s way of accomplishing the mission was to move God out of first place in the heart of Jesus. The mission of Jesus was a tremendously important and good thing. Even so, it was not more important than God himself. This is why Jesus responded with another quote from scripture:

13 It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you (Deuteronomy 6:13-14, ESV)

Of course, there are many, many scriptures that reaffirm that we must worship the one true God alone, and no one, or, nothing, else. Martin Luther offers us a lot of helpful insights into what it means to worship God alone, and have no other “gods.”

A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol… That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God. (Martin Luther, Large Catechism, first commandment)

So, whatever our heart truly clings to, whatever we entrust ourselves to, is what we really worship. It is that thing or person that has the place of God in our lives. Obviously, that can be (and should be) the God of the Bible. But the temptation of Satan is to lead us to entrust ourselves to other people or things; to put our hope and confidence in anything other than the true God.

In our culture many people do this with money. Their real confidence is in money. It is money that they look to for hope of the future. It is knowing that they have (or will have) money that brings them consolation. Satan says to them: “Look, you just want to take care of your family. You just want a secure future. You want to be able to get the most out of life, and enjoy life without having to work so hard all the time. All you have to do to achieve that is to make money more important than anything else.”

Some people do it with relationships. Their trust and hope for the future is all about the people who are important to them. Satan entices them to choose human beings over God. This happens in a variety of ways. For example, maybe you have a friend who doesn’t share your Christian faith. You might be tempted to keep silent about your own faith, rather than risk losing your friend. You might even pretend to agree with the friend about something that contradicts your faith. Perhaps when you spend time together, your friend wants to do things that the Bible says are sinful. You might be tempted to compromise, so that you don’t lose your friend. At that point, you are worshipping your friendship above God.

Success is another thing we are tempted to put before God. I could be more successful as an author if I wrote a mystery series that did not have a pastor as a main character. I would do even better if I included profanity, and much better if I wrote salacious sex scenes. But if I were to compromise, I would be making success more important than my relationship with God.

There are many other things we are tempted to put above God: the approval of other people, achievement, exciting or meaningful experiences (adventures and travel) – the list is almost endless.

The temptation of Jesus was one of the most insidious of all. Satan tempted him with the very mission that God entrusted to Jesus. In the same way, many ministers are tempted to put their ministry above everything else. That’s the nasty thing about this kind of temptation: it is often not a bad thing that tempts us. It is good to make enough money to pay your bills and take care of your family. It is good to make other human beings a priority. It is good to want to do ministry, or to use your God-given gifts to achieve big things. The problem is when these things become more important to us than God alone. The sin comes in when we look to those things for hope, when we trust in those things to bring us happiness or security, or when we make decisions that put those things above our relationship with God.

Luther explains again what it means to worship God alone, and serve only him:

Namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that in him, nor let itself be torn from him, but for him should risk and disregard everything else on earth.

We need to come to a place where God is so important to us, that we will give up anything else to keep him. We need the Holy Spirit to bring us to that place, and it is good and right to pray for help – to ask God to work in us so that he is indeed our only true God. Luther again, offers a helpful thought:

He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and to draw us to himself, because he is the one, eternal good

God is actually the true source of everything good, everything that we need and love. Are you deeply blessed as you sit quietly in nature? That blessing comes from the one source of eternal good: God himself. Are you blessed by people you love? Rejoice in them, and recognize that it is God who put them in your life. Do you have all that you really need, financially? You can take pride in your hard work, but recognize that your ability to work, and opportunities you have had, came from God alone. Do you have a gift for music, writing or some other artistic ability? Surely you know that you didn’t get that for yourself – it came from God himself. Learn to see that everything good that we have ever experienced or had, and everything good that will come to us in the future, comes from God himself. It is vitally important, also, to recognize that when we have anything apart from God, it becomes no longer good. We need to learn to worship the Giver, not the gifts.

Jesus held fast to this. Again, he battled Satan by quoting the Bible. He rejected the easy way. He refused to let even God’s mission for him become more important than God himself. He did this for us, yes, but we should keep in mind that even more importantly, he did it for the glory of God, to reaffirm that nothing in all the universe is more important than God himself.

Let the Holy Spirit speak in your heart right now.

LENT #4: THE SURPRISING GRACE OF TEMPTATION

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Whatever our temptations, and whatever our failures to pass the test, remember that Jesus faced the same temptations, and for our sake, he did pass every test. He accomplished what we could not, and he did it on our behalf. Because we cannot live perfect lives, Jesus lived a perfect life in our place. Now, we are released from having to meet that standard of perfection on our own. Instead, through faith, by God’s grace, we are judged not on our own performance, but the performance of Jesus.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Lent Part 4

LENT #4. LUKE 4:1-14

We have been using our passage as a jumping off point for various topics that are associated with the season of Lent: Suffering, Fasting, and Solitude. Now, we will return to the text and consider the encounter Jesus had with the devil. Most translations make it seem like Jesus spent forty days in solitude and fasting, and then, when he was just about done, the devil came and tempted him. That is a possible interpretation – there is room in the Greek for that. However, in Greek, it looks much more like the devil was bothering him the whole time. Apparently, when he came back, he told his apostles about three particular kinds of temptations that he faced. The NET captures this fairly well:

1 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he endured temptations from the devil. (Luke 4:1-2, NET)

I want to say a few words about temptation. In the first place, the Greek word normally used for temptation has a wider range of meaning than we typically give to our English word. It seems to me that we think of “temptation” as being enticed into doing something we should not do. We’re tempted to eat ice cream when we are on a keto diet. We are tempted to lust, or to have an affair. We are tempted to cheat or lie when it seems clear we could get away with it. In English, temptation is all about an alluring opportunity to do the wrong thing. Temptation attracts us toward the wrong thing, the sinful thing.

This is part of the meaning of the Greek word. But in Greek, the main emphasis is not about desire, or enticement. Instead, in Greek, the idea of temptation is about testing something to prove what it is made of. Another good word might be trials. When engineers make some new kind of device to make cars more safe, they have to do safety trials in order to find out if their device works. When scientists develop a new drug, they have drug trials, to test it, to make sure it does indeed work. That idea of a trial – putting something through a test, to see how it does – is the essence of the New Testament word for temptation.

Now, of course, the test does consist of being enticed to do something that God says we should not do, but we should keep in mind that temptation is not all negative. When we pass the test, it glorifies God, and brings grace to us. Temptation has a positive outcome in mind. It isn’t just about avoiding evil – it is about proving what is good.

This brings up something very important: temptation is not the same as sin. Jesus was tempted in every way, but was without sin:

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV

7 Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. (Hebrews 2:17-18, HCSB)

And yes, the word the HCSB translates “tested” (above) is the same word many Bibles translate as “tempted.” So, if Jesus was tempted/tested in every way, but did not sin, that means that being tempted to do something is not, in and of itself, sinful.

I’m going to use a particular temptation that I am familiar with as an illustration. It is generally more true of men, but I think you women can still understand it, because the main points apply to both male and female. Over the years I have spoken with many men who struggle particularly with the sin of lust. I myself have had a significant battle with it at times. I think many men who struggle this way fall prey to a trick of the devil. It is normal male biology to notice attractive women – that’s part of the nature of male levels of testosterone. It is especially normal for men to notice women who are displaying a lot of skin, or emphasizing their various physical “assets” in some way. A lot of men look at such women more or less involuntarily. In some cases, it’s very hard to avoid looking twice.

Now, having seen a woman in such circumstances, the temptation comes along. The devil, or our own flesh (it doesn’t really matter which) raises up these kinds of thoughts: “Let’s think about what she would look like if she was wearing even less. Let’s think about what it would be like to be with her.” Most of the time, such things sound like our own thoughts.

Here’s the important part: so far, the man has not sinned. It is not a sin to be tempted. But I know many men who think they have already failed at this point, simply because they have looked, and were tempted by such thoughts. What often happens then, is the guy thinks, “I’ve already blown it. I might as well go ahead and enjoy the fantasy.” And then, of course, he does sin. But I want to reiterate: temptation is not sin. Jesus was tempted, but did not sin. So, the fact that such things interest or entice you does not mean you have failed.

Now, I got very specific there, but this applies to any temptation we might experience. Perhaps you struggle with gossip and slander – this could be equally true of men or women. You are tempted to use your words to cut other people down, to show the world that they are not so great after all. You hear something about someone you know, someone who is far too uppity. It’s a juicy bit of information, and you could use it to teach that person a little much-needed humility. In fact, you want to use the information, you want to say something. But you haven’t yet sinned. You have been convinced by the devil that you want to use your words in a hurtful way, but you haven’t done it yet. Don’t be discouraged: temptation is not sin. You haven’t sinned yet. The attraction you have to do the wrong thing is not the same as actually doing it.

We face temptations from three sources: The world, the flesh and the devil. They are all connected. Perhaps we internalize messages from our ungodly culture. Or maybe something in our sinful flesh draws us toward sin. It might also be the devil, or one of his servants – and they use our sinful flesh to whisper into our minds. Either way, scripture makes it clear that the primary battle takes place in our minds:

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, ESV)

On the positive side, this is a test. By not doing the wrong thing, by doing what God wants instead, you are accomplishing good things spiritually. You are bringing glory to God. By using the resources of the Holy Spirit to battle the tests of the world, the flesh and the devil, we show the world the greatness of Jesus Christ. And of course, all sin is ultimately very bad for us, so we help ourselves when we pass the test.

Let’s look at the first test that Luke records for Jesus:

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.’” (Luke 4:1-4, ESV)

There is a lot of significance packed into these few words. Of course, Jesus was hungry, but the temptation was not really for Jesus to break his fast. Instead, there were two things the devil was trying to do here.

Remember, before Jesus went into the wilderness, he was baptized, and God spoke from the heavens, saying “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” After being in the wilderness with no food, the devil came at Jesus. He wanted to place doubt in Jesus’ mind about what God had said. If you are the son of God…prove it! Turn these stones to bread.

The devil was saying: At your baptism, it was one quick sentence. Did God really say that? Wasn’t it maybe just a rumble of thunder? If God is pleased with you, why are you out here all alone and hungry? Can you really believe what you heard?

This temptation to doubt God’s word is the very first way in which Satan assaulted human beings:

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1, ESV)

This temptation comes in many flavors, but underneath it is one of the most common attacks of the devil: casting doubt on what God has revealed through his Word.

  • How can God actually love you? You know you aren’t loveable, so what it says in the Bible about God loving you can’t really be true, can it?
  • Does God really forgive your sins? Isn’t that too easy? You can’t really trust what the Bible says about this, can you?
  • It’s not really a sin to get drunk is it – does the Bible really say that?
  • Did God really say you should save sex for marriage?

And so on. There is a place for honest questions. It is normal to want to understand where the Bible – God’s Word – comes from, and why we should trust it. If you have those honest questions, please contact me about a sermon series on that subject. Also, feel free to check out my book: Who Cares About the Bible?

However, this temptation of Satan is not about asking honest questions. At the heart of it is a desire to doubt, a desire to believe that the Bible is not trustworthy. There may be a lurking bitterness, almost an eagerness to say: “See! I told you that you couldn’t trust God to be good, told you that you couldn’t trust what God says!”

So the first part of the trial/test/temptation is to doubt God’s word. The second part is this: because you doubt God’s word, you really should take matters into your own hands. So, in the case of Jesus, first the devil casts doubt on what God clearly said to Jesus. Then, he says, “Since you can’t trust God, you better take care of yourself. Don’t wait for God to provide for you, don’t wait for God to show the world who you are – make your own bread. Prove to yourself and to the world that you are God’s son, and satisfy your hunger the same time.”

The devil offers a “solution” for both problems. First, if Jesus were to turn the stones into bread, it would prove that he is indeed God’s son. Second, it would provide what Jesus needs (food) since (according to the devil) God won’t provide it.

Again, remember that Jesus was voluntarily limiting himself to the resources of only his human nature. The devil was trying to get him to stop living in that human dependence on the Father, and instead tap into his own divine nature, his God-nature. If Jesus had done that, he could not have been the perfect sacrifice for human sin. It would have undone the whole reason he was here on earth.

If all of that sounds really tricky and nasty, you are getting the idea. The devil’s tempting can be deep and complex, and he doesn’t play fair.

Jesus’ reply to the devil destroys both lines of temptation. He says: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.” Let’s unpack this. Remember, the devil is trying to get Jesus to doubt what God says. Jesus responds with “It is written.” In other words, he is reaffirming his trust in God’s Word. It’s almost like he is saying: “You want to talk about what God said? I can do that: What God said is written down.”

The second part of what Jesus said – that is, the scripture he quotes – is also a deadly response to the devil: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Actually, Luke gives us the shortened version. Matthew adds the next phrase. I think it is useful for us to see the specific passage from Deuteronomy that Jesus is quoting, because both Jesus and the devil knew it well:

3 He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3, HCSB)

Jesus is reaffirming his dependence on God. As we saw in the message about fasting, this is the essence of fasting: to recognize our dependence on God, to recognize that we actually need God even more than we need food. More specifically, the scripture quoted by Jesus says that we need the Word of God even more than we need food. So, he is telling the devil: “Yes, God did say those things, and I believe him. In fact, I count the Word of God as more important than food. I am hungry because God is in control, and His Word says he wants me to wait patiently, learning that I can trust him not only for physical food, but for spiritual food, His Word.”

This is a massive reaffirmation of Jesus’ trust in the Father, and of his intention to live, like all human beings, in dependence on the Father.

Where are you tempted to doubt what God has said? Is it what the bible says about what is right or wrong? Or are you tempted to doubt God’s word about forgiveness and love?

In what ways are you tempted to satisfy your own needs apart from the provision of God? There are scripture passages that say everyone who is able should work and provide for their family, so it isn’t wrong to work to provide for your physical needs. But I think some people are tempted to trust in their own finances more than in God. Others are tempted to  satisfy their relational needs in ways that God says are sinful. Or, here’s one that I have struggled with: Like every human being, I have a legitimate physical need to eat. But I am often tempted to eat more than I need.

Whatever our temptations, and whatever our failures to pass the test, remember that Jesus faced the same temptations, and for our sake, he did pass every test. He accomplished what we could not, and he did it on our behalf. Because we cannot live perfect lives, Jesus did live a perfect life in our place. Now, we are released from having to meet that standard of perfection on our own. Instead, through faith, by God’s grace, we are judged not on our own performance, but the performance of Jesus.

1 Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, GNT)

Let us remember that God has indeed told us these things, and let us cling to them, even when the devil tempts us to doubt what God has said. Let us remember, when we are tested, that God has already provided all we need. Once again, look at what God’s Word says:

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:15-16, NLT)

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about all this, today.

TEMPTATIONS

 

TEMPTATION

Jesus faced some powerful temptations. We face the same kinds of tests. The way that he overcame them can help us to trust him to overcome them in our lives also.

 

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Matthew #7 . 4:1-11

Last time we saw how, at the baptism of Jesus, the Father and the Spirit showed how pleased they were with him. The next thing Matthew records is that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Mark records that this happened immediately after:

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12, HCSB)

There is an important point here. It isn’t the main message of the text, but I think it is very significant for many of us. The Father was pleased with Jesus. The Spirit was with him, leading him. And he was brought into a desert wasteland where he had no food and had to fight with devil.

You don’t have to go very far in America to hear a Christian says something like this: “If you just follow God, he’ll take care of you. Your life will go better.” The Father was pleased with Jesus. The Spirit was leading him. However, his life did not get better, but harder. Following God is not a guarantee that everything will go well for you. That’s hard, but it’s the truth. When we follow God, his goal is to lead us to the place where we understand that this life on earth is not the main focus.

There is something else that many people may need to hear today: Our circumstances do not necessarily reflect how God feels about us. Jesus had nothing to eat. He was assailed by the devil, and living in a desert wasteland. And the Father was so pleased with him; the Spirit was with him. The Father has his reasons for allowing Jesus to go through that. But his reasons had nothing to do with his delight in Jesus.

Sometimes, when I’m going through tough times, I think maybe God is mad at me, or perhaps I’ve done something that has caused him to teach me a lesson. Another thought I have sometimes is that I’m going through hard times because I’ve made the wrong choice, and not listened to the Holy Spirit. But that could not have been the case with Jesus. The Father was pleased with him. The Spirit was leading him.

I think this passage calls us to dare to look at our circumstances differently. In Jesus, the Father is pleased with us, too. What we are going through is not necessarily a sign of how God feels about us. It’s true that, unlike Jesus, we sin. Sometimes we go astray and hard circumstances are a result of our bad choices. But Jesus shows us that you can follow the Spirit and still end up in wasteland with no food and the devil attacking you constantly. Just because you are in a hard time does not mean that God is displeased with you. Trust his love and grace to you!

Now, let’s take a look at some of the specific temptations faced by Jesus at this point. By the way, Matthew does not claim that these were the only ways Jesus was tempted by the devil. These are just a few of the many. But they were very powerful and difficult. You could classify these three incidents as temptation to doubt God’s provision, his protection and his purpose. But I think it’s worth looking at all three more closely.

Jesus was fasting. In some ways, fasting is all about dependence upon God. It’s almost like saying, “I need you more even, than I need food!” In my experience, when done right, fasting leads me to a greater sense of dependence upon God, regardless of what needs I may perceive in my life.

4:2 says that Jesus was hungry. Satan came along and said, “Why don’t you just create some food for yourself? You are God in human flesh, after all.” Pay attention, now. Being hungry isn’t a sin. It was natural for Jesus to be hungry. He was hungry because He himself had created the human body to need food. So, the temptation here is not about eating – it is about control. Satan was saying, “You’re hungry. You can satisfy your own hunger. Just reach out and do it – meet your own needs.”

Jesus, in taking on human nature, committed himself to live in complete dependence upon the Father, even as we humans are called to live in dependence upon him. To live as a human, to fulfill his mission, he had to trust in the Father to take care of him. In reply to the devil, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3. The whole verse says this:

He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deut 8:3, HCSB)

In that verse, Moses was reminding the people of Israel how God dealt with them in their desert wanderings. The point is, the hunger came about as a result of God’s work, and the hunger was ultimately satisfied by God. Jesus was saying: I will not meet my own needs. I will allow the Father to put me in a place of need, and I will allow Him to meet those needs in His way, and His time.

We experience similar situations, even when we aren’t fasting. Maybe it is in regard to physical needs, like hunger, or physical intimacy. Or maybe we are “hungry” for emotional needs. God wants us to depend on him to satisfy our needs in his way and in his time. Satan wants us to insist upon our needs getting met in our way and in our time. The temptation is to take control of the situation rather than trusting God. Jesus chose to trust God even while his need to eat was not being met. He calls us to that same kind of faith. Can we trust God to meet our need for love, even when we feel unloved? Can we trust him to take care of us, even while we can’t pay the bills?

We can’t manufacture that kind of faith. But Jesus has that sort of trust in the Father, and he put it into action as a human. And if he we trust Jesus, his strength, faith and integrity are available to us. Through faith, we can let Jesus, living inside us, overcome those temptations and bring us to a place of trust in the Father.

The next temptation recorded may not seem like much of a temptation to most of us. The devil suggests that Jesus should throw himself off the highest place in Jerusalem. From there, he would certainly die, unless God saved him. I think there are several temptations here. One is an inducement to suicide. Jesus faced some incredible hardships within a few years. It would be easy to simply retreat from life, and go back to heaven through death.

Without contradicting that, there are other things going here also. I think the devil was trying to cast doubt on Jesus’ sense of identity as the Son of God. He says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” In other words: “You think you are God’s beloved Son? Prove it.” Again, the devil is inviting Jesus to doubt God, to doubt what had been said at Jesus’ baptism. As an evil twist, he is also casting doubt about whether the Father really would rescue Jesus, really protect him.

As a final, diabolical element, Satan quotes scripture, twisting its meaning and purpose, to try and convince Jesus to do it. I think that is a very important point. In this world of sin, anyone’s words can be twisted and misused, even God’s. Psalm 91 (quoted here by Satan) is an assurance of God’s care for his people. It is not an invitation to commit suicide and see if God will stop you. It’s not an invitation to force God to prove something.

But I think we all have the temptation sometimes to want God to prove himself to us. Sometimes we all doubt whether God will really keep his promises, and we think it would be nice if we could make him show us. We also feel the temptation to doubt who we are in Jesus. The bible says that in Jesus, we have forgiveness and redemption; we are holy and blameless; we have every spiritual blessing; we are more than conquerors; we have rest for our souls; we are the righteousness of God; we are a new creation, we have real life, everlasting life; we have peace; we have grace; we stand in God’s favor…and much, much more. It all seems too good to be true. That can’t really be us. The devil will tempt you to believe that it IS too good to be true. He’ll make you doubt your true identity in Christ. When he does, ignore him, and trust Jesus in you to send him packing.

In verses 8-10 the devil makes Jesus an offer: “Worship me, and you can have the world.” I think we read this and sometimes think, “That’s silly! Jesus is Lord, why would he worship the devil?” Remember, however, when Jesus lived on earth, he made himself completely dependent upon the Father, just as we are completely dependent upon him. The Father had a mission for him, and it involved a lot of hard work and pain and suffering. What the devil offered Jesus was a shortcut. Jesus came to save the world. The devil says, “I’ll give you the world without all that suffering. Just call me ‘Lord.’”

Remember, the previous two temptations questioned Jesus’ very identity. Now, the devil is trying to assume he has succeeded, and Jesus is willing to doubt himself enough to do that. Along with that, he is offering the inducement of an easy way out. He’s saying, “You can accomplish your mission without all that hardship and pain and suffering. I’ll just hand it all over to you. The Father is trying to make you jump through hoops – I won’t do that. Just worship me, and I’ll take care of everything else.”

Since the time of Jesus, there have been many stories about people “selling their soul to the devil” in exchange for some wonderful thing. But the truth is, the temptation is not usually so blatant as that. I think it is more like these examples:

You really just need to relax and “check out” of all the stress for a while. You want some peace. There’s pill you can take, or a joint you can smoke that will take care of it all, or you could drink enough alcohol to “take the edge off.” Smoking, pot, taking the pill, or having a few drinks is easy. It’s deals with the pain or the stress quickly. But it doesn’t really deal with it – not permanently. And in exchange, you give up control and end up needing the pot or the pill, or the booze. You trade more and more of your life away in order to keep those things in your life. You think it’s a momentary out, a harmless short-cut. But you are trading your life to the devil in exchange for it.

Let me say something briefly about marijuana. Everyone I’ve spoken with who smokes it tells me that it is not addictive. I think it’s true that physically, there are no withdrawal symptoms if you quit. But the same people who say it isn’t addictive keep smoking it, even when it costs them their jobs or their relationships and even sometimes their freedom. If you are willing to give up friendships and livelihood for it, you are addicted, no ifs, ands or buts.

Here’s another soul-trade. You want security in your life. You want to make sure that you will never be in a place of need. So you work long hours. You give your life to your career, and exchange you get a savings or investment account. But it turns out, no amount is enough to make you feel secure. You work harder, and trade more time with your family, more time with God – more and more of your life – for this security. It’s a deal with the devil. It costs too much.

People do the same thing with status and fame and power. Maybe a little bit of “tough business practice” which is really just cheating, will allow you to get where you want to be. Maybe just a little more time away from the family.

Sometimes people even think they can accomplish God’s mission but do it the easy way. Just go to church, throw some money in the offering plate, and then you can ignore God the rest of the week. It’s easy.

Now, I don’t mean to say that it’s never easy to do what God wants of you. Sometimes it is extremely grace-filled and easy. But we need to pay attention to the deals we make to get what we want.

Real peace comes from trusting Jesus in the middle of hard times. Real security comes from trusting Jesus in hard times. Sometimes God just gives peace, or sometimes he just gives us sense of security. But those things come as we trust him, not from taking short-cuts.

When we look to anything but God for peace, security or comfort, we are in danger of looking to that thing as an idol. I don’t mean that we can only have peace or comfort through severe meditation and scripture study. The Lord may touch you through music, or a friendship, or a good book or movie, or a meal enjoyed (without gluttony). The Lord blesses us through all sorts of things. But we need to look beyond the things themselves to the Lord who gives them. And certain things and activities are just deals with the devil.

Jesus overcame this the third temptation the way he did the other two – he relied upon the scripture, throwing the truth at the temptation. This is one reason why it is important for us to know the bible for ourselves. It is vital ammunition in the spiritual battles we face.

One final thought from this passage. The temptation, the fasting and the desert wasteland were a season for Jesus. It came to end. The trials do not last forever. When it was over, angels came and ministered to Jesus – in other words there was relief from the difficulties that Jesus had faced. Some of us need to hear this – that our hard time does have an ending. We can’t predict when that will be, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it isn’t just an oncoming train.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you right now.

THE BLOODLESS BATTLE

DavidSparesSaul

IT USUALLY TAKES MORE COURAGE TO REFRAIN FROM ANGER AND RETRIBUTION, THAN TO ACT ON IT

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1 Samuel #25. 1 Samuel Chapter 26:1-25

Often when I teach through the Bible, I am looking for tightly focused themes and messages in each passage. That works pretty well in the teaching portions of scripture. But often, when we get to narrative history, I feel like each passage is a box of chocolates: a lot of variety, a few surprises, but all of it is sweet.

I want to point out again David’s precarious situation. He trying to lead and support 600 men who can’t stay in one place. In fact, they can’t stay in any civilized place, because the king has declared him an outlaw, under the death sentence. He is dependent upon gifts from friends and strangers. He is also vulnerable to these same people, if they choose to betray them. We don’t know for sure how long David lived this way, but it was certainly years – maybe even as long as a decade.

One of the reasons I like to point this out is because many churches and popular preachers seem to suggest that if you have faith in God, everything will always go well for you. By implication, if things do not go well with you, it must because you don’t have enough faith, or you are not righteous enough. David was an imperfect human being, but he did live in faith. In fact he had a great deal of trust in the Lord, and always repented from his sins, and was willing to humbly learn to do better.

Even so, for many years, it did NOT go well with David. I just want to make sure that no one reading this ever falls prey to the teaching that if life is tough on you, it is because you don’t have enough faith, or you are a bad Christian or something like that. Also, I want to make sure you don’t believe that you can earn favors from God by being righteous, or saying the right words or having the right kind of faith.

I do want to say, however, that David became the great man he was because of faith. Sometimes things went very well for him and sometimes they didn’t. But how it was going on the outside was not as important to David as the quality of his relationship with the Lord. And because that relationship was more important to David than anything else, God was able to use him in amazing ways, and also to bless David without David thinking he had earned it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive all of life as blessing, whether or not it looks that way outwardly? If we could do that, it wouldn’t matter much to us whether circumstances were good or bad. We would always be experiencing life as blessing. David was getting there.

In chapter 26, David is still in a time of outward difficulty. But we will quickly see that things are very good with his heart. Once more, the Ziphites betrayed David – the same people who almost got him killed in chapter 23. They knew where David was, and they told Saul to come and get him. As far as we know, Saul had left David alone since the incident when David spared his life in the cave. But the Ziphites basically tempted Saul to sin. Having betrayed David once, this group of people probably thought that if David were not killed, he would take retribution on them if he had the chance, so they may have been quite urgent and persuasive in trying to get Saul to start hunting David again.

David can hardly believe it, so he takes a few men on a reconnaissance mission to see if Saul really has come. One of them is Abishai. Abishai is the son of David’s sister Zeruiah, which made him David’s nephew. Since David was the youngest of ten, it is quite possible that he and Abishai are basically the same age, or even that Abishai is a little older. They might have spent a lot of time together as boys. At this point, they are both probably in their early or mid-twenties, in the prime of physical power and maybe a little inclined to try something crazy.

The two of them decide to sneak into the heart of Saul’s encampment at night. This is the desert, so the soldiers probably did not have tents. The picture seems to be that Saul chose his sleeping spot, and then the whole army arranged themselves around him, with his bodyguard closest to him and the rest around them in a rough circle. David and Abishai crept through the entire circle of sleeping men and came to Saul sleeping soundly, along with Abner, the chief of Saul’s bodyguard.

All this appears somewhat similar to chapter 24, but only superficially. Almost every detail is different. Saul doesn’t come alone into the cave where David and his men were waiting. Instead David creeps with only one companion into the middle of Saul’s camp. This time it wasn’t Saul almost finding David where he was hiding, it was David finding Saul where he was camped openly. Before, David was passive. This time he initiated the action.

I think that it is not coincidence that this happened shortly after David’s interactions with Nabal. In chapter 24, we have the record of how David was tested, in the cave with Saul, and he passed that test. But with Nabal, he failed. He fully intended to take matters into his own hands regarding Nabal, and was saved from sin only by the wisdom of Abigail. Now, once more, he gets the chance to take matters into his own hands, or trust the Lord.

Verse 12 says that the Lord put a deep sleep on Saul and the army, which made this whole incident possible. It is almost as if the Lord is giving David a chance to see if he really learned his lesson with Nabal. It isn’t just a test – obviously, God knew what was in David’s heart. But David may not have been sure of himself. He may have had times where he thought about the incident with Nabal, and condemned himself, and wished he had behaved differently. The Lord is giving him a second chance, a “do-over.”

Abishai hasn’t matured in that way at any rate. He asks permission to kill Saul. It would be all over. The good times could begin. The days of wandering homeless, despised by people around, in danger all the time, could all be ended by one swift spear thrust. As before, it was a powerful temptation. Who could blame David? In Saul’s mind, anyway, they were enemies. It would be an act of war. It wouldn’t even be David who struck the blow.

But David has learned his lesson thoroughly. He says:

10“As the LORD lives, the LORD will certainly strike him down: either his day will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 However, because of the LORD, I will never lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed. Instead, take the spear and the water jug by his head, and let’s go.” (1Sam 26:10-11, HCSB)

He saw the battle with Goliath as the Lord’s fight. So he sees the struggle with Saul. It isn’t his, really – it is God’s business, and David trusts God to take care of it in His own time and in His own way.

As morning breaks, from a safe distance, David calls and awakens the camp. He shows them the spear and the water jug he has taken from Saul’s side. David is young and strong, and he has accomplished an amazing, bloodless feat of arms. So he teases Abner, Saul’s commander for a moment. I get the feeling he is rejoicing in what he and Abishai just did. But then, once again he respectfully confronts Saul with his wrongdoing. Like Abigail did with David, so David does with his king, Saul. He shows Saul he is wrong; he reminds him of true righteousness in God’s eyes – but he does it all with respect. You might say that David is submissive to the authority of Saul, but he is not subservient or a doormat.

At the end of the discussion, David shows where his trust is:

23 May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his loyalty. I wasn’t willing to lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed, even though the LORD handed you over to me today. 24 Just as I considered your life valuable today, so may the LORD consider my life valuable and rescue me from all trouble.” (1Sam 26:23-24, HCSB)

He doesn’t ask Saul to treat him the way he treated Saul. Instead, he declares that he trusts the Lord to treat him with righteousness and love.

Throughout this, Saul seemed to be full of remorse. But he was remorseful last time two, after David spared his life in the cave. David has learned something important from Saul: Remorse is not the same as repentance. Saul let his emotions rage through him uncontrolled. Sometimes he was full of murderous fury; sometimes he was full of regret and sorrow. But the regret and sorrow did not lead to true repentance for Saul – they were just feelings he had sometimes. So, even though Saul invites David to come back with him, David does not do it. Saul is in God’s hands, but David is wise enough not to trust him.

It’s another great story, and I love it just for the daring deeds and passion and trust in God. But what does it mean for us now? What does the Lord want to say to us through this passage today?

One of the things that catches my attention here is that David and Abishai accomplished a daring exploit, a great feat of war – yet without violence or bloodshed. If you are a young man, particularly, you may sometimes yearn to do something daring or great. Often it is easiest to imagine doing this in the context of some kind of violence – saving comrades during a battle, or saving your family from the bad guys. There is nothing wrong with the desire to do daring deeds, or with having a warrior-spirit. In fact, it is a good thing, used by god. By trusting the Lord, David allowed his warrior-spirit to be used and satisfied without committing violence.

Along with that, David shows that withholding violence takes more courage than doing something violent. With one violent act, his troubles could have over. It was much harder – it was a much greater deed – to leave Saul unharmed. I think we can all learn from that. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. It takes a lot more courage to do that than to take matters into our hands, and protect ourselves. It takes courage not to reply with harsh words or gossip when someone hurts us. It takes courage to not repay hurt with hurt.

As we read the Old Testament especially, I think it is helpful to ask: “Where is Jesus in this text?” Remember, David is sometimes a “type of Christ.” What this means is that God used David at times to show the world what the real Messiah (Jesus) is like – to people who would never get the chance to know Jesus in their earthly life.

This passage does show us a little bit of what Jesus is like. Like David, Jesus is a mighty warrior, forever in the prime of life, full of bravery and wisdom; ultimately and absolutely victorious over his enemies.

David held back from harming Saul, who, without a doubt, deserved to be harmed by David. In the same way Jesus holds back the punishment that we all richly deserve. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pay back evil with good. David did that very thing. Jesus forgave the people who were crucifying him, even as they did the deed.

Here’s something else that I think is very significant. David did not know at the time that the Lord was using him to show the world what Jesus was like. He didn’t realize how significant his actions were. But because he lived in trust and obedience, many people in his generation, and for a thousand years after, had some idea of what the Messiah was like.

We don’t always know when someone has a chance to see Jesus through us. We can’t always tell when the Lord is doing that. Very often the opportunity comes when we least feel like it. There was a huge temptation for David to act precisely opposite of how Jesus is. So in the same way, it may be in our toughest moments that God uses us to show Jesus to the world.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you right now?

If I’m Dead to Sin, Can I sin all the time now?

LIVING IN REVERSE, PART 4. ROMANS 6:12-23

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Last time we considered the New Testament teaching that in Jesus we died to sin and to the law. Through this death, which is accomplished through the death of Jesus, we have been set free from sin and the law. (Romans 6:7,14,18; Romans 7:4,6) Last week I shared no less than one dozen scriptures that teach explicitly that in Christ we have died.

The picture Paul gives us at the beginning of Romans 7:2-3 is of marriage. When two people are married in the eyes of the law, they are married. It would be a sin to marry someone else at the same time. But if the husband dies, the laws regarding marriage no long apply. Because of the death, the law doesn’t apply any more. It would no longer be sinful or illegal for the woman to marry someone else. The law was made irrelevant by death.

In the same way, the power of sin to bring us condemnation through the law has been destroyed by the death of Jesus, and by our death which happened in Jesus, as we have trusted him. We can’t be condemned as sinners anymore, because as Paul writes:

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Rom 7:4, ESV)

Now, when you really get this, there is a natural question that arises. Does this mean I can sin all I want, because the law no longer applies to me? Now stick with me here. I am going to give you an answer that may surprise you, but you need to follow through the ENTIRE answer I am about to give.

Technically, the answer is, Yes, you can sin all you want. If you are in Jesus, your sins don’t “count” anymore. In the eyes of the law, you are dead, so the law cannot be used to condemn you for anything you do now.

Now, that is a shocking answer. It isn’t the whole story yet, and I want you to stick with me as I give some further explanation in a moment. But just pause here for a moment. Do you see how outrageous the grace of God is? He has made it so that if you simply continue to trust Him, you cannot fail. Even when you do fail, it isn’t counted as you anymore. That’s why we see all those passages in the New Testament saying that when we are in Christ we are New Creation, we are Holy, we are Blameless and so on.

You see it isn’t our job to work ourselves into a state of holiness. God has already put us into a state of holiness, in our spirits. Our only job is to keep believing that he has done this, and through that faith, He will continue to work the holiness deeper and deeper into our soul and body life.

I use the expression keep believing quite deliberately. It is a daily (sometimes hourly) habit of continuing to believe who Jesus is, what he has done for us, how he feels about us, and continuing to rest upon it. This is not a one shot deal. This is not a situation where you just say, “Well I got baptized, so I’m good now.” Or “Well, I got saved five years ago, so I’m good now.” This is a process of continually putting our trust in Jesus, day by day. That is what it means to be “in Jesus” and all these things are ours, only in Jesus. I’m not saying that you have to work hard and live the Christian life on your own strength in order to be in Jesus. But I am saying that to be in Jesus, you need to continually rest in Him with trust in what his Word says, and in what he has done for us.

Last week I spent some time talking about how what we believe profoundly shapes what we do. So the next part of the answer comes here. Technically, you can sin all you want, and it doesn’t count against you. But if you really believe that God has freed you from sin, that you have already been made holy, you will be far less inclined to sin than if you believe you are still fundamentally a sinner.

If you believe you are half sinner, and half saint, then it is only natural for you to go through life sinning half the time. If you believe that, and you sin less than half the time, I commend you for your great will power, though it is misguided. The bible does not say you are half sinner, half saint. It says that if you are in Jesus, then in the most essential part of your being, the part that doesn’t change, the part that already has a solid connection to eternity – your spirit – you are entirely holy. You are completely separated from sin and the law.

When you believe what the Bible says – that the essential you is already holy and is free from sin – you will sin less, not more, because action follows belief. If you find that you are sinning a lot, what you need is not to try harder to stop, but to believe more fully what God says about you.

Now, there is another thing that will eventually restrain our sinful actions. There is a movie from the 1990s called Groundhog Day. In it, a weather reporter named Phil gets trapped in an endlessly repeating day – February 2 1993, to be precise. Only Phil is trapped in this day. Every day, the other people he meets are living the day as if it is their first February 2, 1993. The only thing that carries over from day to day is Phil’s memory. Naturally, at first he is depressed. One night he is drowning his sorrows in drink, and he says out loud: “What if nothing you did mattered. What if you woke up every morning as if the previous day had never happened?”

One of the other drinkers in the bar said, “That would mean there would be no consequences. You could do anything you like.”

Phil catches on to this idea, and at first, he abuses the fact that there are no consequences for his actions. He gets drunk, commits crimes, and does many morally reprehensible things. After a while all that loses its luster, because he realizes there is no life there. So he tries to commit suicide. He kills himself dozens of times, but always wakes up the next morning at 6:00am on February 2, 1993.

But finally, truly knowing there are no consequences, he begins to live for love. Repeating this day endlessly with one of his co-workers, he falls in love with her. And knowing it doesn’t matter what he does, he finally chooses, because of love, to do what is good and right and noble. He devotes himself to literature and music. He tries as much as possible to help others. Every day he says the same boy from breaking his leg, and the same man from choking. Every day, he tries to save the life of the same old bum who dies on February 2, 1993. Day after day, he tries to bless the people that he is stuck with.

I suggest that you are really in Jesus, and you really know you are free from sin, you will discover quickly that there is no real life in sin, and the pleasure you get from it is false and always disappoints you. When you really know you are free from sin and law, you will find yourself more often drawn to the Lord and REAL life, than the shallow, brief and bitter pleasures of sin. And when we learn to love God, we find that living for love naturally moves us away from what would hurt our loved one, and toward things that are good and right and noble.

Here’s another analogy. I am married to Kari. We have a legal marriage license from the state of Illinois. Suppose we went to a marriage counselor and I said: “Kari committed to be my wife, ’till death do us part. We are legally married, and there is no part of the legal document that specifies what I must do, or what I may not do. So does that mean I can stay out until 3 AM every night and party all I want? Can I stop working, and let her provide all of our finances? Can I spend all our money however I want, without talking to her about it? Can I leave dirty dishes and smelly laundry all over the house?” I could go on, but you get the picture.

Marriage is not about a legal contract in which I fulfill my duties or else face the consequences. I could technically do all those things and remain legally married to Kari. But what kind of relationship is that? I don’t do those things (except leaving the occasional dirty dish) because I love Kari. Now there are times when either Kari or I do things that hurt each other. When that happens, we have to talk about it, and ask forgiveness, and give forgiveness, and heal the relationship. But we don’t say sorry because we have rules about saying sorry. I don’t clean up after myself (a lot of the time, anyway) because there is a rule that I have to. But I know it is helpful for our relationship if I do. I am motivated by love.

This is the picture the New Testament gives us of our relationship with God. Truly, if you are in Jesus Christ, sin is irrelevant. But what is relevant is your relationship with him, your love for him.

Paul describes it almost exactly this way. He uses the analogy of a woman who husband dies, and then she is free to marry someone else. Paul says:

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Rom 7:4, ESV)

We died to sin and to the law so that we could be raised into relationship.

If you are looking to find out how much sin you can get away with, then I question whether you actually are in relationship with God. I would say at the very least, you relationship with him is in very serious trouble. And, believe it or not, that is really the question of someone who is still trying to live by the law. You want a rule about how many rules you can break and still be OK. You aren’t really in relationship with God.

So, to go back to the sin question, since you are free from sin, dead to it, is there a problem if you sin? Well, is there a problem in your marriage if you cheat on your spouse? Of course there is. It isn’t a law problem, it is a problem that shows lack of belief in what God says, and lack of love for him. But we need to understand that it isn’t about performing correctly for God or reforming ourselves or making ourselves holy. It is about believing Him and loving him.

I don’t like it when I hurt Kari feelings. I hate the feeling when we are fighting and our relationship isn’t right. I feel the same way with the Lord. And the truth is this. If I say something hurtful to Kari, and I never say sorry and seek her forgiveness, it puts a barrier in our relationship. The more I hurt her and refuse to resolve the hurt I’ve done or acknowledge my mistake, the more distant our relationship will become. Eventually all the hurts and barriers and distance add up, and if we let it go, we might end up divorced. But you can’t divorced without signing papers. It can’t happen without you knowing about it and agreeing to it.

In the same way, if we continue to live in such a way as to hurt our relationship with God, we will become more and more distant from him. Eventually, we may be so distant that we get no benefit from our relationship with Him. The prodigal son left his father. The father still loved his son, and called him his son, but the son got no benefit from it. Even though he was the son of a loving, kind and generous father, he was living with pigs and eating pig food to survive. He might have died that way, and so, through his neglect of the relationship, never received anything more from his father.

Some of you reading this believe you can never lose your salvation. Some of you believe you can. Wherever you come down, the Bible is very clear that it is very serious thing to be distant from God. The bible exhorts us to continue to have a daily relationship with Him, through faith.

But once more, I want to emphasize that if you truly believe how outrageous God’s grace is, when you truly know that He really has freed you from sin, you will not be motivated to sin nearly as often as before. The more you believe, the less you injure that relationship with God, and the more quickly you will seek healing and resolution when you do hurt that relationship.

We don’t fight sin by trying be good with our own willpower. We don’t conquer temptation by gritting our teeth and getting over it. We start by believing that we are already holy, that in fact, we don’t have any relationship to sin any more. We live now in relationship to God, a relationship of faith that is based upon unconditional love, not rules.

Now, there is another question we need to address. If we are already holy, and already free from sin, why do we sin anymore at all? I apologize, but this message is getting long, and so I will answer that question next time.

1 Corinthians #14. A Way Out. 1 Cor 10:1-13


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Just as in 1 Corinthians chapters 1-4, Paul has a general subject in mind here, but he starts straying and covering all sorts of topics before he comes back to finish the discussion. The topic, begun in chapter 8, was about food sacrificed to idols. But he tells us in that chapter that the point is not what you are free to do, but how your actions affect the consciences of others. In chapter nine, he spent a great deal of time detailing his own rights and freedoms, and pointing out that he gave those up for the Corinthians.

In chapter 10, he warns the Corinthians that they are not above falling. He uses the Israelites as an example. In verse 11, he says:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…

This isn’t the main point, but it is an important one. He says something much like it in Romans also:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

The reason I point this out is that sometimes Christians act as if the Old Testament is no longer relevant to us any more. But the New Testament itself teaches that the Old Testament offers us instruction and encouragement. It applies to us – certainly in a different way than it applied to the Israelites who lived before Jesus, but still, it is there for our instruction, encouragement and benefit. Paul, looking at the Old Testament, sees its fulfillment in Jesus, and its application for present followers of Jesus.

So he uses an Old Testament example for the Corinthians. The Corinthians were baptized into Jesus Christ. They had faith in Him. They regularly received the Lord’s Supper. But, says Paul, that does not automatically mean that they will be in heaven, if they don’t persist in these things. He says that the ancient Israelites, had their own baptism-like experience. They had their own experience of the Lord’s Supper, partaking of food and drink that were not only physical, but spiritual (v.3-4). Paul even says that Jesus Christ was present with them through the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, just as Jesus is present with us through the Holy Spirit.

I have seen two common attitudes among Christians like the attitude that Paul warns about. In the Lutheran and Catholic traditions, many people have the attitude that if they simply get baptized as babies, get confirmed as teenagers, and take communion once or twice a year, they automatically go to heaven. They feel that if they just do those things, they can live the rest of their lives however they want, and it will have no eternal consequences.

Many Baptists and other evangelicals have exactly the same attitude, only in a different way. They laugh at the idea of putting their faith in sacraments. But instead, they put their faith in a different ceremony, that of “getting saved.” They believe if that at one single point in their life, they respond to an altar call, walk down to the front of the church and say that they believe, then they “got saved.” Church of Christ people would add that they have to get baptized too. But the attitude is that if they simply do that once, they can go live the rest of their lives however they want, and it will have no eternal consequences.

The result of all this is that we have people all over the country who never go to church, never talk to God, never read their bibles, live in all different kinds of moral sin, give their lives to alcohol and drugs, or to the pursuit of money, and yet believe that when they die, they’ll be in heaven with a Lord they have never known or cared about. But Paul says:

Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. (1 Cor 10:12, the Message).

Now, there is great debate between Christians about a related topic. Some Christians feel that if you are truly saved, you can never lose your salvation, no matter what. They point to several verses like Romans 8:38-39

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Others point to this passage, and other passages like Hebrews 6:4-8, which contain strong warnings about falling away, and even to people like Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom Paul says rejected the faith and so destroyed themselves spiritually (1 Timothy 1:20).

I like to solve the dilemma by saying this: First, there are great many promises to us so that we can rest assured, knowing that the power and grace of Jesus holds us and will keep us and bring us safely to eternal life with Him. Second, a life of true faith will show itself by growing closer to God and moving away from sin and worldly ambitions (even if the movement is slow).

The point Paul is making today is the second one. If you have true faith, you won’t neglect your relationship with God. If you think that you can more or less ignore God for the rest of your life and still have eternal life, then you are in desperate spiritual and eternal danger.

But Paul also has a word of comfort. He says:

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (1 Cor 10:13, New Living Translation)

In other words, though the possibility of spiritual danger is very real, God does not simply leave you to figure it out yourself. He doesn’t abandon you to stand or fall on your own – he is there to help in the middle of your temptations and trials. The word for temptation here means to “trap” or to “test.” This word is for you if you are tempted to sin, or if you feel caught, or if you feel your faith is being tested in some way.

Now, I want to be honest with you: there were times in my life when I wasn’t sure that this was true. For a long time I struggled with a sin that I always seemed to give in to. If I was tempted in that way, I was going to sin. I wondered where my ‘way out’ was. Slowly, over the years, I’ve learned two things about the “way out” listed here.

I had areas of my life where I was holding on to hurt and not forgiving others. I had closed off parts of my heart from God, and that naturally opened them up to the devil. I was defeated by that particular temptation, because I let Satan live in a little corner of my heart where I wasn’t letting God come in. In other words, God couldn’t give me a way out, because I closed part of me off from him. I needed help and prayer from other believers to discover this and to walk through the process of dealing with it. Once I did that, I was till tempted to sin in the same way, and yet I found that I could now resist that temptation.

If you are dealing with a particular sin in which you fail again and again in the same way, I encourage you to talk to me or another mature Christian about it, and seek the wisdom and prayers of others.

There is another aspect about this way of escape from temptation. You must believe that the Holy Spirit really does offer it, and that means you need to keep looking until you find it.

I grew up in Papua New Guinea. We always had plenty of food available to us, but not nearly the variety of food there is in the United States. We could always find meat and bread. There was always rice. Fresh milk was never available. Other things, like crackers or potato chips or breakfast cereal only showed up occasionally. If we saw Froot Loops or macaroni and cheese in the store, we knew a ship had recently come in to town. We also knew that within a few days, all boxes would be gone, and we probably wouldn’t see that kind of food again for a year or more.

One year we returned to the US for a few months of furlough. I went to an American grocery store with my Grandfather. We got various items, and then we started looking for oyster crackers. We went to the aisle where Grandpa normally found them. They weren’t there. Grandpa was puzzled, and we looked very intently without finding them.

“Grandpa,” I said after a while, “they’re probably just out of them.”

Grandpa didn’t really know any more about New Guinean grocery stores than I knew about American ones. He stared at me like I was an alien. “They’re not out of them” he said. He was vastly amused at my idea that there would be no oyster crackers.

If it had been me, I would have gone home without oyster crackers, because I did not believe they were there. However, to my great surprise, we eventually found them, and my grandpa laughed at my consternation all the way home.

In order to find the way of escape promised by the Holy Spirit here, you must believe that it really exists, and you must keep searching, believing you will find it. If you don’t believe it is there, you might be like me with the oyster crackers – you’ll look around a little, and then give up. But my Grandpa found what he needed because he believed it was there, and kept searching until he had obtained it.

That needs to be our attitude when we face temptations and trials and tests of any kind. The way is there. God has promised it. Don’t stop, don’t give up until you have made use of it to find relief from temptation and trial.